ORLANDO, Fla. — What would the odds be for someone who, as a 2-year-old, accidentally ingested rat poison, landed in the ICU for three weeks, had his stomach pumped and ended up with a nervous system so damaged that he needed to be medicated for life …
… becoming a professional golfer?
What would the odds be for that golfer ascending to No. 49 in the world rankings and having a legitimate chance to play in his first Masters next month …
… after he’d been suspended for nine months as a 19-year-old amateur for testing positive for a substance that was in the drug his doctor prescribed him to control a nervous system jangled by the rat poison?
What would the odds be if this golfer, playing in just the third PGA Tour event of his career at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, were to win, overtaking the likes of World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Jason Day and Adam Scott among other stars of the game?
Considering the odds Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a 25-year-old from South Africa, already has defied in his remarkable ride, it might not be a good business decision to bet against him the rest of this week at Bay Hill after he posted an opening-round 4-under-par 68 to trail leader Matt Every (7-under) by three shots.
“It’s been quite a journey,’’ Bezuidenhout told The Post on Thursday after playing a round he called “flawless.’’
The timeline of Bezuidenhout’s life begins with his parents, Margaret and Conrad, inadvertently leaving him unattended at a store when he was two as they shopped. He reached for a bottle of Coke on a shelf and took a sip. The soda was contaminated with rat poison.
His nervous system was damaged for life, leaving him with a severe stutter, which led to anxiety and depression the more his peers made fun of him.
When Bezuidenhout was 14, a doctor prescribed him medicine to treat the anxiety. A few years later, after playing the first round of the 2014 British Amateur at Royal Portrush, he was randomly selected to take a drug test. A few weeks after that, he was informed that he’d failed the test and was to be suspended for two years. After an appeal, the suspension was reduced to nine months.
But still …
“I was devastated,’’ Bezuidenhout recalled. “It felt like my life was over. I never knew what was in the medication. It was a prescription medication, not just something I bought off the shelf and took.’’
Bezuidenhout, who spent six years in Ernie Els’ foundation as a junior player and credits Els for “always been part of my journey and showing me the way,’’ described the forced layoff as “a brutal nine months.’’
“I could have gone two ways — take the nine months and work as hard as I could and come back stronger or just go sit back and never play golf again,’’ he said. “I love the game so much that the second option wasn’t an option. I took the nine months to regroup and play golf and I came back stronger.’’
He won his first mini-tour start by seven shots after the suspension was over.
He was named the 2017 Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year.
He earned his European Tour card in 2018 and bagged his first European Tour victory at the 2019 Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, besting the likes of tournament host Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm, who was one of the first to congratulate him.
If he remains in the top 50 by March 30, Bezuidenhout will play in the Masters.
That’s coming a long way. A really long way.
“A year and a half ago when I first started with him, because of his stutter, he was very to himself and he wouldn’t speak easily to anyone unless he had a level of trust with them,’’ Bezuidenhout’s coach, Grant Veenstra, told The Post. “We’ve managed to get him out of his shell the last year and a half. He’s put all the negativity and all the hurt in the past behind him and he’s in a good place now.’’
What’s most remarkable about Bezuidenhout is the fact that, with a compromised nervous system since age 2, he’s been able to thrive in a sport that requires the athletes to control their nerves perhaps more than in any other.
“I’m trying to control my nerves every single shot, every single day and take it from there,’’ he said.
He seems to have taken it further than anyone dared dream he could after that traumatic incident 23 years ago
What were the odds of that?